March 30, 2009

What Happens at Memphis If Calipari Goes to Kentucky?

With John Calipari allegedly in clandestine discussions with the administration of the University of Kentucky, it is time for University of Memphis fans to consider the age old question, 'What if?'

There are a series of questions to ask in this vein:

If John Calipari leaves the University of Memphis, what will happen with the recruits that he has signed?

Memphis has a signed National Letter of Intent (NLI) with three recruits: Will Coleman and Darnell Dodson, the junior college transfers, and high school senior Xavier Henry. It is not possible for those potential student-athletes to break their commitment without getting a release from the U of M.

If the U of M were to give those three a release, they could immediately re-open their recruitment. It would then be possible, of course, for them to follow Calipari to UK. Though that is a possibility, it is highly improbable. It simply does not happen very often.

DeMarcus Cousins, who has given a verbal commitment to Memphis, would be free to sign an NLI with anyone he chooses-including, of course, Kentucky.

John Wall, the consensus number one recruit in the country, has not indicated what school he wishes to attend. Obviously, he, too, would be free to sign with any school of his choice.

Kentucky has never been on his list, which could change if Calipari takes the job there.

Should John Calipari leave Memphis, how would this impact the U of M's basketball roster next season?

In a word: the roster would likely be gutted.

Word in recent weeks has been that Angel Garcia, the 6'11" wing forward from Puerto Rico by way of East Chicago High, has every intention of returning to Memphis in the fall for what would be his freshman campaign.

That would most likely change. Garcia would likely pursue pro ball in his native Puerto Rico or else re-open his recruitment.

Shawn Taggart, the fourth-year junior post player who transferred here from Iowa State, is set to graduate in May. He has the options of pursuing pro ball or returning to Memphis for his fourth year of eligibility.

If Calipari leaves, the probability of Taggart staying at Memphis shrinks dramatically.

Would C. J. Henry want to stay at Memphis with Calipari gone? Probably not. In turn, would his younger brother, Xavier, then come to Memphis?

Again, highly unlikely.

DeMarcus Cousins likely never sees the court at FedEx Forum if Calipari leaves.

Calipari has basically closed the door on Matt Simpkins. Though Calipari leaving would theoretically open that door again, Simpkins is likely never to come back.

The JUCO transfers, Coleman and Dodson, are loyal to Orlando Antigua, and would quite possibly honor their commitments.

Therefore, barring any unforeseen transfers (which would also be a strong possibility), the only scholarship players remaining would be the following student-athletes:

Pierre Henderson-Niles, Willie Kemp, Doneal Mack, Roburt Sallie, and Wesley Witherspoon, with Coleman and Dodson (as mentioned) also likely.

That makes seven players on scholarship: three seniors (Henderson-Niles, Kemp and Mack), two juniors (Coleman, Sallie), and two sophomores (Dodson, Witherspoon).

And finally, the big question:

If Calipari goes to Kentucky, who are on the short list to coach Memphis?

Memphis fans on the Commercial Appeal message board are clamoring already for Mike Anderson, the former UAB head coach who took Missouri to the Elite Eight this season.

That is highly unlikely, however. With seven scholarship players and a sour taste after Calipari leaving, the situation at Memphis would be a lateral move, at best, for Anderson. As he would be leaving the Big 12 for C-USA, it is realistically a step backwards for the highly regarded Anderson.

Memphis might consider promoting one of their trio of assistant coaches to the top position: John Robic, Orlando Antigua, or Josh Pastner (listed in order of age and coaching experience).

Robic is quite probably the most head coach-ready of the three. Antigua and Pastner, though, are clearly head coaches in waiting. Pastner is probably one of the hottest assistant coaches in the country. Had things worked out differently at Arizona, he would have still been there as Lute Olson's hand-picked successor.

Antigua would probably end up being the better choice as head coach. He is a relentless recruiter with deep ties all up and down the East coast. As mentioned earlier, he was the primary recruiter responsible for signing Coleman and Dodson.

If either of the three were promoted to head coach, it is unlikely that all three would stay. With Robic, in particular, if Pastner or Antigua were promoted ahead of him, he would likely leave for a head coaching job somewhere.

Memphis will not let Calipari leave without a serious push to keep him. Boosters are expected to be contacted in an effort to put together a compensation package that would make Calipari the highest-paid coach in all of college basketball.

Presently, Calipari earns $3.35 million per year, second only to Billy Donovan of Florida ($3.5 million annually) among men's basketball coaches. Though Kentucky could easily pay Calipari between $4 and $5 million, Memphis is thought to be willing to match it, if it will keep Calipari in the Bluff City.

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